I have spent a few July 4ths in Europe, and as you can imagine, they are not jumping to celebrate our independence. However, one year when in Berlin, they opened the new US Embassy near the Brandenburg Gate. Here I was in Germany, at Berlin's most famous landmark, surrounded by red white and blue, fireworks and George H. W. Bush.
This July 4th found the family and I, along with some good friends, in Spain. We had come to experience the country for a week, and end our trip at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain. Mark Hall, Darrin Kirby and I had also set our sights on the most famous of traditions in Pamplona, Encierro con los Torros (The Running of the Bulls).
Now you may think we are having some mid life crisis, but it is far from anything like that. I am pleased to have friends that enjoy the many rewards of life, and the feeling we've had since our run is undoubtably one of those great rewards.
As with any trip abroad there are many things you don't quite yet know. You read a bunch of on-line articles and get a decent idea, but until you're there, it's hard to put all the pieces together. Had I known what fun this festival was going to be, I am confident I would have come sooner. Our July 4th week was a bit different in red, white and bulls.
All festival goers wear the traditional red and white. The red bandanna is placed around your neck at Noon on July 6th after the opening ceremonies. The red color in honor of the martyrdom of San Fermin in the second century who was the first Christian bishop for the area. He lost his head in France and followed in his father's footsteps of death for the faith.
We arrived in the old city just as the festival was to begin. Tens of thousands in white with red sashes all holding their bandannas and awaiting the start. The energy was incredible.
I and my family pushed to the center of the square and held our bandanas high and joined the crowd shouting, "Viva San Fermin" "Hola San Fermin". Before my bandana was tied around my neck there was sangria, champagne and more spraying everywhere.
This video is a great summation of the two days we experienced.
I'm not sure that my celebration matched that of the very youthful people with which I was surrounded. I was celebrating a great Catholic saint. A man who laid down his life for the Truth. I thought of the purity of Christ that was represented by the white clothes we wore. I thought of the sangria stains, and the way sin stains our lives. I thought of the price of the cross and Christ with the red sash, and of the willingness of a fellow follower, San Fermin, to lay his life down for the message of hope. As I sprayed champagne on my family and friends these were the thoughts in my mind that were well worth celebrating.
I jumped on Darrin's shoulders and joined many Spaniards who were celebrating. I learned from another on his friends shoulders that we were signing and dancing to the "Song of the Hills".
The festival was underway and we began to seek out the path Mark, Darrin and I along with thousands from the world would run in the morning.
Water was pouting from balconies. The crowds were thick and pushing was the only way to move. Bands played and moved in opposite directions adding to the chaos. We drank from wine bags and bottles from all who wanted to share.
Conversations were easy. Whether English or Spanish. People were jovial and friendly. I chatted with one Spaniard about the route of the bulls and he shared some notes with me and when I told him, "Yo corro in la manana." He then said in English, "I don't believe you."
We quickly learned that most Spaniards, like most people, think running with the bulls is pretty stupid.
We found the bullpen and the release gate and met new friends from Colorado, Chris and Ashley Jordan who we would run into a few other times during the festivities.
We studied the route and the sought a much needed late lunch. Nothing a Turkish Donor place couldn't solve.
The evening ended with a great quiet meal outside the city center with the Halls at La Coscano. Sucking pig, Ox, Torro, Foigras and a good wine from Ribera Del Duero.
The morning of July 7th started at 4:00 am and the anticipation of ten months was about to be released. Mark, Darrin and I jumped in a cab and headed back into the chaos at city center. Our families were leaving shortly after us to take their place in the balconies above the run.
We soon found ourselves in a sea of mostly young men awaiting the rocket at 8:00 am and the start of the run. At About 7:50 they released us to find our spot on the run. It would be near our families balcony and give us the opportunity to make it into the coliseum.
A few waves of runners cam through, and then, the bulls and steers. At that moment I wasn't excited nor afraid, I was paying attention to as many details as possible. I jumped in when I could keep from getting ran over and had my seconds next to the bulls. Then another bull passed by and I hauled the mail into the shoot and the coliseum. I found Darrin quickly and called Mark on my cell.
We were singing with thousands, "Ole, Ole...Ole-Ole-Ole!" Then there were new bulls released into the ring. I stayed in, but at what I hoped was going to be a safe distance. Mark had the chance to touch one of the bulls.
It was all surreal. I have yet to find an English word that can sum it up well. Joy, fear, stupidity, fun all wrapped into one.
We found our way out of the ring and back to Estefeta street and our families. It seemed they had just as much fun as we did watching from 10 feet above the narrow street.
We celebrated with a brunch of Paella, sangria and champagne at a makeshift restaurant under a tent as a large group of French men sang what sounded like national songs and old religious anthems.
It was a celebration of family, friendship and the great gift of life that God gives us.
Viva San Fermin! Hola San Fermin! Viva Jesus Christo! Viva!